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Top 12 NASCAR Drivers of 2012

Posted By Joseph Hopkins On Feb 26 2012 @ 10:26 am In NASCAR | 2 Comments

Daytona 500 prediction: Matt Kenseth wins 

1. Jimmie Johnson #48-Lowe's (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus

Won five of the last six championships. That's pretty much
money. Same team, no major changes. They'll be back
strong in the 2012 season. People forget that they were
good in 2012. He was the points leader going into the
regular season finale in Richmond. Had two wins, along
with a dominating performance in the Spring Dover race
that was lost on a missed strategy call on the last pit.
It's silly to consider any other driver the favorite.
2. Carl Edwards #99- Fastenal (Ford)
Crew Chief: Tom Osborne

One point away from breaking the tie-breaker and winning the 2011 Spring Cup Championship. Very good
at 1.5 mile tracks. Was elite in the Chase; never finishing worse than 11th. Lead all of NASCAR in
Top 5's and the highest driver rating. If he drives as good as he did in last year's Chase, he should
win the title.

3. Kyle Busch #18- M & M's (Toyota)
Crew Chief: Dave Rogers

If he races like does in the first half all year, he'll win the championship. He just hasn't delivered. Only two
Top 10's, and missed the Fall Texas race due to suspension. I don't think he'll be as bad. When he's on it, he
absolutely dominates. 4 wins in the season. He's no longer racing truck series, and only running part-time in
Nationwide, so his focus will be on winning the Sprint Cup title. That's enough for me to put him fourth. 

4. Jeff Gordon #24-AARP Drive to End Hunger (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson

First multi-win season since 2007. Alan and Jeff went together like peanut butter and jelly. 3 wins in the
season, and had the potential to win more (Kansas, Indy, Bristol, Richmond). A lot to like with a year
under their belt. Very strong on flat tracks like Pocono and New Hampshire. Just need to improve on 1.5
miles. Need to step it up in Chase if they want to win a title.

5. Tony Stewart #14-Office Depot (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Steve Addington

Tough to believe I'm putting him this far down. Just the question mark of a new crew chief in Addington.
With that said, I actually like them more with the change from Darian Grubb. They lagged all year. They
figured out something in the Chase that only they and 99 team saw. Addington has tremendous success with
Kyle and Kurt Busch. I think they'll work very well. 

Probably belong higher, but just the uncertainty of it all. Heavy competition plays a factor too. Could
very well repeat.

6. Matt Kenseth #17-Best Buy (Ford)
Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig

Like Edwards, was very good at 1.5 mile tracks, which are the biggest bulk of the schedule. Were title
contenders after the first five races of the Chase. I like this team a lot. Kenseth and Fennig work
really well together. Underrated team going into 2012. They can win the title. 

7. Kevin Harvick #29-Budweiser (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Shane Wilson

Most "experts" have him in their top 3. I like him. He's finished very strong for two years straight
(finishing 3rd in 2010 and 2011). With a new crew chief in Shane Wilson (Bowyer's former CC), you don't
KNOW that he'll perform that high. With the heavy competition this year, that's a lot to hang on.

He finds ways to win. Was very clutch in the Spring of last season. The potential's high. They could
make a run for it. They could fall a little. They need make that last small step if they want to win
the title.

8. Denny Hamlin #11-Fed Ex (Toyota)
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb

Huge drop off after almost winning the championship in 2010. Obtains Darian Grubb from the 14 team. I think
it'll bring stability. They're now out of the radar. I think they'll be good. I expect them to be more
consistent than hit/miss like they were with Mike Ford in the box.

9. Brad Keselowski #2-Miller Lite (Dodge)
Crew Chief: Paul Wolfe

After a slow start, absolutely went off on the competition, winning three races. Had a strong Chase as well,
finishing 5th. Bad Brad returns with the same team and CC as the leader of Penske Racing. If he can find the
same rhythm he found, he'll be a force. He could take tumble with the high expectations as well.

10. Kasey Kahne #5- Farmers Insurance (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Kenny Francis

Now with Hendrick powerhouse. The potential's high. He also doesn't have a losing streak lurking over him as
he won at Phoenix with Red Bull late last season. Would have finished high had he made the Chase last
season. We're going to find out how much of his struggles was equipment. He'll finally have the chance to
prove his talent in 2012. 

11. Greg Biffle #16-3M (Ford)
Crew Chief: Matt Puccia

I think they'll rebound back into the Chase. Usually a safe bet. 2011 was the worst season he's had since
2007. Was pretty strong at flat tracks. Just needs to get back on track elsewhere. 1.5 tracks are Biffle
strong spot on most seasons.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88-Diet Mountain Dew (Chevrolet)
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte

Rebounded after two back-to-back seasons of missing the Chase. Much to the success of new crew chief
Steve Letarte. I expect him to get back to victory lane this year, even if just once. It will likely
happen early in the season as Letarte has a habit of fading as the season wears on.

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR

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